Moneyed clubs cleaning up in '09

As Forbes.com's Tom Van Riper writes, it's not been a good season for teams with low payrolls. And you can imagine what the owners of teams with low payrolls might think about that ...

    Should the Tigers hang on, this season will mark the first time since 1999 that six of the top nine teams by payroll made the playoffs. Back then, when the New York Yankees were in the midst of a mini-dynasty (four titles from 1996 to 2000), owners pointed to the Yankees' dominance as they screamed for luxury taxes and increased revenue sharing to bring more competition to the sport. Many of them figure to take up that rallying cry again, though as sports business consultant Marc Ganis points out, there are other ways to share the wealth these days.
    "You have new initiatives like [Web] streaming, where the league takes 50% of the Yankees streaming deal and leaves other local revenue alone," he says.

    While Commissioner Bud Selig succeeded in pushing through some fairly significant revenue sharing over the past decade, the owners' claims for anything drastic like a salary cap have been mostly refuted by the ability of small-market teams to compete through investments in scouting and player development that have yielded talent on the cheap. Two years ago, the playoff field included Cleveland (23rd in payroll), Colorado (25th) and Arizona (26th). In 2006, three postseason clubs (Tigers, Twins and Padres) ranked 14th or lower. And in 2005, the No. 13 Chicago White Sox defeated the No. 12 Houston Astros in the World Series.


    Minnesota and Tampa Bay, last year's American League champs, have also enjoyed various successes with low payrolls in recent years, providing plenty of fodder for a players union eager to jump on evidence that having the cash bar set by the free-spending Yankees doesn't wreak havoc on the rest of the league. But the A's have been back to the playoffs just once since 2003, while Tampa Bay has fallen to earth after a one-year joyride. Beane and his small-market brothers have become victims of their own success: Once the big money teams figured out what they were doing, they started spending more wisely themselves.

    "They picked up the concept, but with the extra revenue to cover up mistakes," says Ganis.

    No doubt, the combination of money and smart metrics is tough to beat. Small- and mid-market owners may well figure the only path to doing it goes through the union bargaining table. Get ready for a fight.

It makes so much sense, doesn't it? Somebody once described the Red Sox's M.O. as "Moneyball with money." How do you compete with that?
Well, you can't really compete with the Red Sox. Not unless you're the Yankees, anyway. But there are still plenty of teams wasting plenty of money. The Twins probably aren't going to the playoffs, but they certainly could have. The Rays are stuck in the wrong division. And more to the point, we just can't read too much into one possibly anomalous season.

A friend recently sent me the number of franchises that have been champions in the past 10, 20, and 30 years in each of the four big team sports ...

MLB: 8/14/19
NFL: 7/12/14
NBA: 5/ 7/ 8
NHL: 8/13/19

Maybe I haven't been paying close enough attention, but has anyone been complaining about the lack of parity in the NFL or the NBA? If not, why not?

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for more revenue-sharing in Major League Baseball. I'm something of a radical on this subject. I believe the Yankees (for example) should be compelled to share half of all their revenue with the other clubs (which would still leave them with a sizeable advantage over everyone else). I think it's a better, more interesting game if a few teams can't simply spend their way to success (given a modicum of luck and intelligence, of course).

But this is just one season. It's one thing for a few small-market owners to whine about a salary cap. It's another thing entirely to convince enough stake-holders to actually do something about it. Particularly when the evidence remains so thin.